Motorists in Europe must meet minimum standards of physical and mental fitness to obtain a driving licence, but the rules vary from country to country. That will change in 2013, with new European legislation creating a single driver’s permit.
EU law has been revised to allow people with epilepsy, diabetes and other diseases that can affect driving to continue to drive if their conditions can be controlled.
Professional drivers are subject to stricter controls of their physical and mental fitness. The new laws will require that they undergo a medical check every five years.
Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a factor in nearly 25% of crashes and claims about 10 000 lives in Europe every year. Most of these accidents involve alcohol, but other substances – medicine as well as illegal drugs – are a growing problem.
All EU countries have limits on the amount of alcohol drivers can consume. For other drugs, legal thresholds have yet to be imposed, partly because the risks are not fully understood. Determining the danger becomes more complicated when different drugs are used in combination – feared to be a growing trend.
In 2006, the EU launched the four-year DRUID project to study how the use of mind-altering ("psychoactive") drugs affects skill behind the wheel. One of the largest such efforts in Europe to date, the €18m project involves researchers in more than 20 countries.
Of course the police must also be able to detect drug use. A recent EU-US study (ROSITA 2 ) trialed nine drug-testing devices which use saliva samples – one was found reliable enough for roadside screening.
Fatigue is a factor in 10-20% of road accidents. Professional lorry drivers in particular are at risk of being involved in a fatigue-related crash. EU law limits the time these drivers are allowed to work.
One way to reduce such accidents could be to equip vehicles with monitoring systems to alert drivers who show signs of dropping off. The EU project AWAKE developed guidelines for these systems.